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RESTAURANT REVIEW : Siam Cuisine Thrives on Family Thais : The dishes at this Simi Valley spot are zesty, tangy and as exotic and colorful as Bangkok's floating market.

July 21, 1994|NORM CHANDLER FOX | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Practically unknown in Southern California until about 20 years ago, Thai restaurants are now sprouting faster than crabgrass, and some patrons have become self-styled experts on the more popular dishes such as pad Thai or mee krob.

Unfortunately, many places are simply purveyors of cheap, filling and mediocre food. Siam Cuisine, a small, unpretentious store-front spot in a Simi Valley mini-mall, is an outstanding exception.

Here's a close-knit family operation with Kitcha Sirivisut and his son Danny waiting tables while Jeannie, the wife and mom, does the cooking. The walls of the restaurant are covered by giant Oriental fans and Thai art, the room is filled with comfortable booths and well-spaced tables, and the food, for the most part, is extraordinary.

It's especially fun if you bring your whole family or a large group to dine, enabling your party to sample a number of dishes that are passed around Chinese-style.

While the starred menu items are designated as hot and spicy, you can order any dish with extra spice, or just doctor your own with the innocuous looking little jars of fierce chilies on the table. These condiments truly add more pounce to the ounce than you'd think possible.

First-rate starters include tender marinated chicken or pork sate ($5.25) served with an addictive peanut sauce that would taste great spread on your breakfast toast. The sweet noodles with shrimp and bean sprouts--mee krob ($5.25), are crunchy and far from cloying. Thai beef jerky ($5.95) does not have the required marinated flavor, but fried fish cakes ($5.25) have an interesting texture, and blend flavors of cumin, fish paste and green beans.

Soups are served dramatically in those metal Mongolian hot-pots with a flame erupting from the cone. The seafood combo ($7.95) is a near perfect mixture of shrimp, crab, long strips of clam and squid in a broth aromatic with lemon grass, tamarind and ginger. Unfortunately, the sour shrimp cabbage soup ($5.75) doesn't come together and is altogether too bland.

Among the better salads are a combination of slippery silver noodles, ground pork, shrimp and lime juice ($5.95); a tasty yum yai with mixed greens, pork, chicken and peanuts ($5.95); and most unusual of all, a delightful dish of shredded green papaya in a puckery hot and sour sauce ($4.95).

Unlike the curries from India, Thai curries are fiery, soupy concoctions based on coconut milk with the dominant flavor coming from the spice that colors it. Try the beef in red curry ($6.25) in which you taste the red chilies and garlic. Or try the chicken in green curry ($6.25), which is redolent of green chilies.

An interesting dish is the pineapple shrimp curry ($7.50), where the sweet fruit contrasts vividly with the mouth-searing broth. The steamed seafood curry a la Bangkok ($7.95) misses completely due to a misguided addition of mayonnaise in the sauce.

Arriving in a crackling state on a sizzling platter, the very popular barbecued chicken ($6.50) is juicy under a super garlic and anise-flavored coating. Take out a couple orders, and it could turn your next picnic into an exotic Southeast Asian feast.

Royal shrimps ($6.95) are served with black mushrooms and onion in a flavorful black bean sauce, while the garlic shrimp ($7.95) packs a distinctive wallop that will keep you vampire-free for months.

No self-respecting Thai meal is complete without noodles, and the pad Thai rice noodles with shrimp, eggs and peanuts ($5.25) can pass anyone's benchmark test. Even better are the fried flat noodles with beef and broccoli ($5.25) or the rice flat noodles with shrimp and eggs ($6.25).

There are plenty of vegetarian dishes on this menu. Try the spicy sauteed bamboo shoots ($5.25) or wonderful deep-fried bean curd with mushrooms and celery ($3.95). And the beverage of choice is icy Thai beer ($2.25) or the extra sweet iced coffee or tea ($1.25).

Desserts can be as pedestrian as canned litchies ($1.75) or ice cream ($1.75). But if the season is right, ask for the exceptional sweet sticky rice with fresh mangoes ($3.50) for a dessert as authentic as Bangkok's floating market.

Details

* WHAT: Siam Cuisine.

* WHERE: 1960 Sequoia Ave., Simi Valley.

* WHEN: Open Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday-Saturday 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Closed Sunday.

* HOW MUCH: Meal for two, food only, $18-$30.

* FYI: Major credit cards accepted; beer and wine. For information or take out, 581-5526.

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